Other  Dreams



       The heat of mid-August had no mercy on the little town of Harlot. It was hot and dry and the farmers of northern Illinois were pleased. The season had been perfect. The spring rains had come right on time, just after planting, and the blessing had continued with perfectly timed intermittence throughout the summer. Now the corn was tall and healthy and emerald-green, the long, slender leaves of the sturdy stalks rustling gently in the breeze.
      For the farmers this was the good time. The plowing, planting, and cultivating were done, the fields well-dusted and safe, and life was slow and easy waiting for the corn to dry in the sun. If the weather kept up harvest would come early this year—and a fortune in propane gas for the crop-driers would be saved.
      In the meantime there were long mornings in Rachel’s cafe on the corner of Main and Mulberry streets. Sipping coffee with friends. Discussing grain prices. The crop-perfect weather and if it would hold. The new line of pickup trucks from Ford or Chevy and which was best. Maybe this afternoon get a 12-pack of beer, a fishing pole, and go down to Schlockrod’s pond and cast for a few bass or bluegill. Time enough to grease the tractor and fix that lever on the combine tomorrow.
     On the steps of O’Brien’s Grocery and Meat Market, two doors down from Rachel’s Cafe and directly across the street from Dirk’s Hardware Store, Randy “Taterhead” Ellis stopped to listen. He liked the familiar, early morning sound of the birds chattering in the trees. Late summer was winding down. Soon it would be fall with its explosion of red, flaming-yellow and golden-brown. Hazy, musky days followed by crisp, clear autumn nights when the stars would shine like diamonds. Thanksgiving. Snow to shovel. Money. It was going to be a good year, too. Taterhead could just tell.
      Randy Ellis’ nickname, “Taterhead,” was actually a derivative of “Mr. Potato Head,” a moniker assigned him long ago by the other first-graders in his class because he so closely resembled the toy character. And he did. It was the shape of his head. Kind of round at the top, then going in at the sides right at eye level, then going out again, his two round cheeks the lower bumps of the “potato.” And his nose was large, the whites of his eyes huge with tiny pupils, his mouth narrow with big red lips.
       Of course by Junior High the nickname had been shortened to “Taterhead,” which, typically, was further reduced by the locals to simply “Tater.” At 5' 6" he was short and slightly built, but lean and strong from years of hard work. His blue eyes had come from his father, his blond hair from his mother.
      But time had been kind to Randy “Taterhead” Ellis in other ways besides shortening his nickname. By the time he matured and filled out his appearance became less drastic, his features softening to the point that most people entirely forgot why he was called Taterhead. One kid even thought it was because Taterhead Ellis simply ate lots and lots of potatoes.
    Carefully shifting the egg cartons under his right arm, Taterhead continued up the steps. The chalky white paint of the wood frame door was peeling, the bare wood beneath gray and weathered. A little bell attached near the top tinkled merrily, the four window panes rattling in their frames and the bottom scuffing against warped floorboards as he shoved the door open and went inside.
       From the back of the store, out of sight behind the white enameled glass meat counter, a woman sang out, “I’ll be right with you!”
       Stopping just inside the door, Taterhead called, “It’s only me, Mrs. O’Brien.”
        A round, rosy face cheerfully popped up. “Tater! I could set my watch by you!” she grinned. “Just a minute.” Mrs. O’Brien disappeared again.
        Taterhead turned to the single check-out counter along the wall and carefully set his load of eight egg cartons on the soft, slate-gray surface worn smooth and slightly concave by innumerable, heavily-laden brown paper bags. Sniffling, he wiped his nose with a sleeve and reached into a small, pink plastic bucket full of Bazooka bubble gum near the cash register, removed a single piece, unwrapped it and popped the gum into his mouth. After glancing at the joke he turned to the fortune at the bottom which read; unexpected detour lies ahead.
      Wondering just what sort of “unexpected detour” was in store for him (for he took the Bazooka bubble gum fortunes very seriously), he pocketed it for future reference. Then, whenever this bubble gum prophesy occurred he’d have the proof that the predictions did work.
       Just the other day he’d been arguing the point with his best friend, Gaitlin Tyler, who had ridiculed him at the very suggestion that there could be any significance in the silly fortunes printed on the bubble gum inserts. Still, Taterhead was convinced there was some mysterious connection between him and them—a sort of cosmic guidance system that somehow reached him through the brightly colored wrappers.
       The wait turned out to be brief. Taterhead was just weighing whether or not to spend another hard earned nickel on another piece of gum for later when Mrs. O’Brien came zipping up the aisle smoothing her white, beef-stained apron.
       Taking her place behind the counter, she impatiently brushed aside a wisp of bright, auburn hair that had some how escaped the tight pull of the single, girlish braid that fell between her shoulders, punched a key on the cash register and watched as the drawer popped open with a ringing clatter. “Let’s see, eight cartons at .75 cents apiece, that’s uhmmm… $6.00 dollars.”
      She snapped the bills out and laid them side by side on the counter. “See?” She smiled brightly and counted aloud, laying a forefinger on each dollar as if dealing with a three-year-old.
     Taterhead had completed the counting even as she had been taking the cash from the drawer. Now, staring at the bills on the counter, his expression changed from a blank stare to a frown to one of passive acceptance as he struggled to quell the frustration of always being presumed stupid. Taterhead gathered up the money.
       Assuming he’d been concentrating on the mathematical calculations of $6.00 dollars, Mrs. O’Brien laughed lightly, saying, “Oh, Taterhead! You don’t really think I’d cheat you, do you?”
   Folding the bills into his hip pocket, Taterhead unthinkingly commented, “Anyone’s capable of an honest mistake, Mrs. O’Brien.”
     “Of course.” Her smile was thin. She was always quite nice to this slow-witted zero that nobody much liked. And he always came back uppity. Not an ounce of gratitude for her genuine kindness. She had shelves to stock. “Will that be all?”
        At her clipped tone he stopped and looked up. Not wishing to make yet another enemy, he replied humbly, “Yes, ma’am, unless I can do anything else for you.”
       She opened her mouth to speak but caught herself, changed tack to a cheerful disposition and said, “There is one more thing you could do for me, Tater. Bullets is supposed to mow the grass this morning. Will you stop by the house, see that he gets up and remind him about the grass for me? He’s been sleeping later and later and I’m afraid he’s getting into a bad habit.”
       Taterhead nodded. “Sure, Mrs. O’Brien. I’ll be going by your house around 9:00 o’clock.”
       “Thanks, Tater. See you tomorrow morning, then.”
     “Bye, Mrs. O’Brien.” He turned to leave, remembered the bubble gum and turned back exclaiming, “Oh, I almost forgot!”
     She had already started from the counter to continue the stocking chores and wheeled around, asking impatiently, “What now?”
        Gesturing at his mouth and the bubble gum he was noisily chewing, he dug out a nickel and handed it to her. “Gum.”
        “Oh, thank you, Tater.”
      For the second time he nodded goodbye and turned to leave, the bottom of the shaky door scuffing against warped floorboards, the windows rattling, and the little bell tinkling as he went out.

Other  Dreams



      Thirteen-year-old Erica Erickson, all finely chiseled features, full lips, hazel eyes, and long brown hair, was well developed beyond her tender years, with rounded hips and firm, up-thrust breasts stretching the fabric of her black and yellow Batman T-shirt so tightly the perfectly round nipples were clearly defined. A child with a woman’s body, she was just learning to bleed even as her two constant companions, 13-year-old Kevin Crisper and 12-year-old Johnny Bulger, were learning that their wieners were good for something besides peeing with.
      Had Erica foreseen the morning’s events she probably would have worn a bra. But that would have spared her a certain amount of perceived humiliation and, consequently, the full sympathy of the crowd, who would have been less entertained and less in need of assuaging their own guilty consciences.
    But none of these things troubled the minds of the three plotting adolescents as they stood across the street from O’Brien’s Grocery and Meat Market. Tater’s old red Ford was right out in the open in the middle of town and someone might see them. Had they just nonchalantly walked up to the truck and taken three cartons no one would have batted an eye even if they had noticed, presuming that the kids were supposed to be taking the eggs. And even Taterhead wouldn’t have missed them until near the end of his route when he came up short. By then the kids would have been long gone and he himself simply mystified. But, neophyte thieves that they were they hesitated and thus were surprised by Taterhead as they stood at the side of his old Ford helping themselves to his eggs. He knew all three.
        Shouting “Hey!” as he leapt from the stairs, it flashed through his mind like a red neon sign; the unexpected detour!
      Startled, the three kids bolted, scattering up the street in three different directions, each with a carton of eggs under one arm. Confused, running after first one, then the other, Taterhead quickly realized he was only going to catch one and focused on the Bulger boy.
       But the kid turned out to be faster than Tater thought. With pounding heart and sneakers slapping the pavement, he managed to catch up to him at the end of the block. Rounding the corner, he grabbed him by the collar, but their feet became entangled and they tumbled to the warm, tacky asphalt, the egg carton crunching between them and vomiting raw egg into both their faces.
        Taterhead came out on top, sitting astride Johnny’s chest. Both were scuffed and bleeding, but that didn’t stop Taterhead. Grabbing the front of Johnny’s shirt, he shook him furiously, shouting, “Those are my eggs! Why ya takin’ my eggs!?”
          Johnny Bulger was squirming and crying, “Lemme go! Lemme go ya weirdo!”
         Still furiously shaking the boy and demanding payment, an egg suddenly smacked Tater in the forehead, drooling like snot down his face as he looked up in startled surprise to see a grinning Erica standing several feet off and winding up to throw another. The second egg splattered against his chest. Then another smacked the back of his head, raising goose bumps as it dribbled down his back. Whirling around to see Kevin Crisper standing some ways off behind him, soon both kids were pelting him with eggs just as fast as they could throw them.
       With Taterhead distracted by the massive egg assault, Johnny managed to squirm free—almost. As Taterhead came back around, Johnny punched him square in the nose. Taterhead tumbled backwards, tears springing to his eyes as Johnny leapt to his feet shouting jubilantly, “Look! He’s cryin’! I beat up Taterhead Ellis!” And with that he ran laughing up the street loudly crowing this achievement to all. Dropping their empty cartons, Johnny’s companions ran after him with hoots and hollers at this tremendous triumph over Taterhead Ellis.
         Dazed from the sucker punch but angry as hell, Taterhead sprang to his feet. Slipping and sliding in the puddle of raw egg, one sneaker screeched against pavement as he gained traction and took off after them.
         Flush with confidence, Erica was loping along at the tail of the herd and Taterhead easily caught up. Furious, he grabbed her by the hair and spun her around.
          Shocked and frightened, she frantically flailed and kicked, accidentally hooking one long, carefully nurtured fingernail in a tiny hole in the front of her T-shirt, scoring one breast a bloody scratch as the shirt ripped halfway down the front before breaking the nail. But she hardly noticed, gleefully cracking him in the shins and smacking him in the face, all the while shrieking like a stuck pig, “Get offa me! Leave me alone, ya weirdo! HELP!!!”
        With Kevin and Johnny excitedly leaping and dancing around them shouting taunts, Taterhead lunged at the girl, engulfed her in a bear hug and held on fast to control her furiously flailing limbs. “Stop! Stop, now!” he cried in a frightened voice. When at last she ceased struggling, Taterhead, thinking she had given in, let her go.
      Bellowing, “How dare you touch me!” Erica whirled around and kicked him in the balls, scoring a direct hit. Gagging, Taterhead doubled over and dropped to his knees as Rachel’s Cafe emptied into the the street.
      Oblivious to the onlookers quickly gathering on the sidewalk, the three adolescents encircled him like a pack of snarling wolves. With Johnny driving in, delivering a punch to the side of the head and leaping clear, Kevin did the same from the opposite side, while Erica viciously and repeatedly kicked him in the back.
      Mesmerized, the crowd of onlookers shifted and rolled with every movement of the fracas, staring goggle-eyed—not at the boy on the ground, but at Erica’s perfect adolescent tits, which had swung free of the tattered black and yellow T-shirt, one streaked a bloody scratch clear to the pink, upturned nipple.
        So engrossed in the attack were the assailants, and the onlookers in Erica’s breasts, that nobody noticed the Jefferson County squad car come roaring up the street. Not until it screeched to a stop, hot tires swirling blue smoke and the stench of burnt rubber. And then big old Hal Rankin leapt out shouting, “Here! Stop now! Stop that!” and rushed forward waving his hands like an umpire signaling a slider safe.
      Johnny Bulger and Kevin Crisper immediately backed off, but not Erica. She continued flailing and kicking at Taterhead, who was lying curled up on his side, alternating between shielding his nuts and covering his head, his forearms going up and down like some kind of weird, mechanical windup doll.
     Anxious, confused, hesitant to physically touch a nearly naked teenaged girl in front of a crowd in the middle of Main Street, at last officer Rankin took a deep breath, threw his arms around her from behind, pulled the apparently hysterical girl off and dragged her back several feet.
       But he was only holding her lightly. Carefully. Like a China Doll. As the dumbfounded cop and a wide-eyed community looked on, Erica suddenly twisted free and thrust her breasts out, the nipples growing erect as she strutted like a proud rooster beneath the noses of the crowd. “Look!” she cried. “Look what Taterhead Ellis did to me!”
         But she wasn’t a rooster. She was a hen. You could tell by the tits.

Other  Dreams



       Buster and Jane Ellis were not a happy couple. The Ellis farm, which Buster had inherited from his father, who had inherited it from his father, had quietly and insidiously slipped through his hands. Year after year, parcel by parcel, Buster had sold it off to pay his debts. Debts he was never quite able to get on top of. And then one day he woke up very old and very tired, the dreams of success swirling away like a puff of smoke.
        The farm was gone. Except for ten acres and the huge, 150-year-old tumbled down red brick two-story farm house, its ornate, hand-carved wood trim cracked and gray, the last curling chip of chalky white paint having blown away years ago.
       And all his friends were gone. Dead. Or prosperous and far removed from his social station. Failure. It ate away at his insides like acid, corroding his heart and rotting his soul, leaving him a bitter old man with watery, bloodshot eyes, wispy white hair and wrinkled gray skin.
      Thus would he spend the last of his days wandering about the huge, dark house that smelled of mildew and cat piss and rotting wood. Clutching his beer, bumping into furniture and mumbling to himself in a constant and bitter refrain.
      His frail, bony wife was as gray and beaten as he was. She fed the cats and washed the sheets. (He peed in them every night.) She cooked the meals (and mostly ate them by herself, too), did the laundry, and sat in the living room in her favorite chair in the bluish glow of the softly burbling TV, a single bulb from the floor lamp beside her casting a feeble yellowish light on the open page of her Bible. Reading. Gently rocking. Waiting to die.…
      Fate had been cruel to Buster and Jane Ellis. Their first born ate a mortar shell in ’Nam. Their second ate a tree out on the highway at high speed. A total waste of good beer, Buster would cackle drunkenly on a certain Saturday each November. A Saturday that always seemed to be windy and cold, damp and gray.
       And then there was Randy. “Taterhead,” as everyone called him. Of his three sons the only one that survived turned out to be, well, different. Buster Ellis didn’t like him. But Buster didn’t know that. Could never admit that. It just was. And so they were. Mumbling and stumbling. Reading and rocking—when a knock came at the door.
      Gripping the doorknob tightly, Buster Ellis swayed back and forth, caught his balance, took a swig of beer, swayed some more and pulled the creaking old door open. Blinking against the sudden flood of brilliant morning light, Buster squinted up at the big, uniformed officer who stood hat in hand, an old-timer with a big belly and wisps of gray at the temples. A man Buster once knew but now didn’t recognize.
       “Buster?” Hal Rankin inquired, his voice rising.
       “Yeah?” Buster replied sardonically, “what’a you want?”
     It wasn’t common practice for the county to send out an officer to inform someone about an arrest, but Hal Rankin had known Buster and Jane Ellis socially many years before and felt a need to personally explain what had happened to their son. Now the big man cocked his head slightly, inquiring curiously, “Don’t you recognize me?”
       Buster looked the man up and down. “Well… yeah… I think maybe I seen ya somewheres before.”
      Poor old Buster. “I’m Hal Rankin of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department,” he began, deciding a businesslike tone might be best.
      Buster stared at him for a moment, gently swaying as if moved by the breeze, then squinted an eye and said, “So? What’a you want with me?”
       “It’s about your son, Tater… er, Randy.”
      Buster’s gaze wandered, the hand gripping the doorknob trembling so hard the knob rattled. Momentarily turning his attention to the beer can in his other hand, he took a healthy swig, exhaled a great blast of raunchy beer breath and looked up at the man again. “So?”
       Thin and frail, her face like a wrinkled old bag, Jane Ellis shuffled to her husband’s shoulder from the depths of the dark, rank-smelling house. “Buster’s not feeling well,” she said, the corners of her mouth quivering with a weak smile, the effort of which seemed to make her head dip briefly.
      Her husband half turned towards her and stood aside indignantly as if to say, who invited you into the conversation? After a moment he turned back to the officer, smiled brightly and inexplicably raised his can in a jovial gesture. “Join me in a beer, officer, uh, what’d you say your name was?”
      Looking uncomfortable, Hal Rankin shifted his weight and cleared his throat before uneasily declining. “No. Thank you, Mr. Ellis.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m here about your son, Randy. We’re holding him at the county lockup.”
       “Ohhh…” Jane Ellis’ face went slack, her eyes glazing over as one trembling hand reached for the support of the door frame.
     A tender touch the old woman hadn’t felt in years, but now her husband absently handed the officer his beer can and moved to her side. A protective arm about the shoulders, he drew her into the house, imploring of the officer as he went, “Please, come in,” and gently guided his wife to the scarred old rocker where her Bible lay.
       Rankin took a hesitant step just inside the door and stopped. It was unbearably hot in the dark, closed up room, the air like thick, rancid syrup.
     With his wife seated, Buster straightened up and impatiently beckoned the man into the living room, saying with a gesture towards Jane, “Please, my wife.”
        At this point wishing he had phoned instead, Rankin, only two years from retirement, came into the living room, the floor beneath his big shiny black shoes creaking and groaning with every step. He handed Buster his beer and sat down at the opposite end of the couch. Holding up his hands, he looked at both of them and admitted, “I don’t know where to begin.”
       “What did Randy do?” Mrs. Ellis pointedly asked.
     “He…” Rankin faltered. “He’s charged with criminal sexual abuse of a minor.”
      The old woman jerked perceptibly, the Bible slipping from her  fingers and falling to the floor with a thump.
          “He raped a child?” Buster’s voice quavered on a high note.
        “Oh, no, no, Mr. Ellis. He… he only, uh, fondled her upper body area,” the officer stammered, then regained his composure and decided to get this over with. “According to the juvenile’s statement, he tried to lure her and two friends into a sexual liaison by offering them free eggs. Well, the kids took the eggs, but when they declined sexual favors he became violent and attacked the children.”
      “Oh no!” Her eyes welling up with tears, Jane Ellis anxiously looked around the room, twisting this way and that as if the old rocker were holding her fast and she needed to escape.
     “Now, now, Mrs. Ellis. Calm down. Randy denies everything,” Rankin quickly explained. “He claims he caught the kids stealing his eggs.”
        Buster was trembling so hard Rankin could feel it clear through the couch and the floor beneath his feet. In a scratchy high voice edged with panic the dishevelled old man asked, “Well, did he do it?”
        “I guess that’s for a judge and jury to decide,” the officer answered forthrightly.
       Buster Ellis sighed with what Rankin could have sworn was relief. Or maybe, rather, with a sense of, well, it’s all over now.
        “The charge is not as serious as it sounds,” Rankin put in.
       “Well if he did do this thing, whatever, sexually attacking a child,” Buster’s voice was strong now and tinged with indignation, “we want to see justice done, too. We don’t want our boy going around messin’ with no kids like that. No sir, we want to see him before the judge just as much as that little girl’s folks do!”
       “Well that’s very noble,” Rankin bobbed his head once.
       “Yes,” Jane Ellis put in, giving a defiant nod of her own tousled gray head.
        “But you’re going to need a lawyer.”
      “A lawyer!” Buster screeched, “A lawyer! Lawyers cost a lot of money! Do I look like I got a lot a money around here?”
       Rankin lifted a shoulder and sadly shook his head. “I don’t know what to say, Buster.”
      “Can you bring Randy home for us, sir?” Mrs. Ellis innocently asked.
      “I’m afraid not, ma’am. You see, he’s been arrested. He’s in the county jail. Bail’s been set at $5,000 dollars.”
       “Five thousand dollars!” Buster cried, “I don’t got $5,000 dollars!”
      “No. You only need $500 dollars. Ten percent to get him out. You don’t have to come up with the other $4,500 unless he runs.”
        But by now Buster was shaking his head disdainfully. “Get outta here,” he waved the man off. “I don’t have that kind’a money to throw away ’cause Randy’s feelin’ up some kid.”
        Nervously toying with his big brown Stetson, which he held by the brim between his fingers, all at once Rankin stood up and put it on. “I’m sure sorry about this, folks.”
       “Five thousand dollars,” Buster mumbled, getting up and staggering in the general direction of the kitchen and his beer supply. “Get outta here.”
      “I’m really sorry about this, ma’am,” Rankin said, bowing slightly towards the old woman.
         But she was staring across the room, face rigid, eyes unseeing.
    There wasn’t anything further to discuss. With the floorboards creaking and groaning beneath his big black shoes, officer Hal Rankin quietly left, closing the door behind him.

                                           To see more works by this author